For some very good reasons John Herman Randall, Jr. saw himself as an innovator and a deviant within the discourse that is called the history of philosophy. In an early chapter of The Career of Philosophy he pronounces this characteristically salty judgment on the main tendency of such work:

The history of philosophy, in truth, since German professors captured it and made it the handmaiden of academic advancement, has been a rigid tradition. Philosophy began with Thales, it falls neatly into Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, and it culminates in the men now writing for your favorite philosophical journal, God forgive them their sins!

Randall should be celebrated simply for the several ways in which he succeeded in shaking and displacing this "German" model of the history of philosophy, although there is, of course, much more to his work. I propose both to investigate some of these ways and to raise the question whether there might be some traces of the model still to be found in Randall's own work. Randall's objections to the German model in the passage just quoted seem to be two. First, it sees the development of philosophy as relatively unilinear, following a single pattern that neglects the many rough edges, the roads not taken and the thought that was so influential in its own time, but is now neglected. Second, it tends to construct that pattern in terms of a culminating point, which is simply the philosophical present understood in a certain way. It is not that Randall objects to mobilizing the sources of the past in order to make sense of the present but that he believes, quite sensibly, that we will succeed better at such a use of history if we acknowledge more explicitly to ourselves and others just what it is that we are doing.

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1987

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 1987 The Charles S. Peirce Society. This article first appeared in Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 23, no. 1 (Winter 1987): 31-43.

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